Arabism, Syrian history

The Syrian empire, 19th century colonisation: the plight of Syrian Christians, a background.

Retaliation, a rundown

The title of this entry is a little tongue in cheek as, there is a long history of retaliation among Christians and Muslims in Syria. These acts of retaliation are not necessarily between the two religions but occur also, among different sects of the same religion.

These divisions manifested in the Lebanese civil war, which lasted through the 1970s and 1980s, when it is documented, that Hafez Assad intervened, not only to defend Lebanon from the Israelis but on behalf of oppressed Christians; by right wing Maronite groups. This raises the question of, what constitutes Arab nationalism as both the Muslim Druze and the Catholic Maronites, have at times, denied being Arabic.

Arab nationalism

Past entries of this publication began to explore the different ideas as to what, constitutes Arab nationalism and discussed how the first Syrian Arab nationalists may well have been from other parts of the Ottoman empire.

The idea of the blog, is to give an alternative view of the recent attempt to colonise Syria and this entails exploring the polarisation between Islamic ideology and Arab nationalism, which is based on communist ideals.

Unfortunately, current events have got in the way of this thread but the history was never meant to be linear or to focus on particular issues. Today’s situation is underpinned by all manner of historical occurrences.

The author, Suraiya Faroqhi, sheds some light on the sectarianism between the different religions, sects or denominations, when he describes ” the rules of polite behaviour”, which prevented Muslims from reporting on areas outside the Ottoman empire, when they returned to the region.

He adds, that Ottoman Jews and the different Christian denominations, tended to ”prefer the company of their co-religionists’,’ at least until the late 18th century and were not inclined to recount their experiences of other countries either.

Faroqhi explains, how socio-economic factors played their part as ”intra-community cohesion”, facilitated credit and trading opportunities.

The beginnings of sectarianism?

The 1840s was a time of reorganisation or tanzimat (in Turkish), for the Ottoman empire. The Pasha family (see other entries), who invaded Syria on behalf of the Ottomans, in 1831, held ideas above their station and wished to rule Syria in their own right. The Turkish Sultan, spurred on by Britain and others, who opposed the idea, sent an army in 1839 to combat the Pashas, who enlisted Egyptian troops.

By this time Mohammed Ali Pasha and his son Ibrahim were well entrenched in Egypt. Egyptian forces stayed in Syria until 1841, when Britain intervened, physically. Ibrahim Pasha was forced to withdraw to Egypt, where their dynasty, ruled until the 1950s. Britain had its own agenda for supporting the Ottoman Sultan as, the French had a good relationship with the Pashas, at the time.

The above is simply an outline of external events, that according to many authors, were to shape the future relationship between the various cultural groups in Syria. There are internal considerations too, for instance when Sultan Selim conquered Syria in 1516, he divided it into 3 vilayets, Aleppo, Damascus and Tripoli; each with their own emir.

In 1660, a fourth vilayet was constituted and the land was divided into North and South, with administrative centres at Tripoli and Sidon respectively. There, revenue was raised for the Ottoman sultan and the grand emir.

The most notorious person to hold the title of grand emir was Bashir Shihab the second, who ruled Mount Lebanon from 1788 to 1840. Shihab converted from Sunni Muslim to Maronite and was the second Maronite ruler of the Emirate of Mount Lebanon.

According to the historian Caesar E Farah, his conversion did not prevent him switching allegiances from the Maronites to the Druze Muslims, on occasion. The grand emir was responsible for collecting taxes from the feudal lords and this was partially responsible for his downfall, in 1840.

Needless to say paying taxes was a major concern for all the inhabitants of Syria and occasionally resulted in rebellion. As mentioned in a previous entry, taxes rose drastically under Ibrahim Pasha, though I believe the infrastructure improved. The wealth invested in the dignitaries, through the raising of taxes, enabled them to maintain positions for themselves, as in the case of the Shihab family, referred to above.

In 1840, Bashir Shihab was toppled after his failure to induce the Druze, feudal lords to relinquish control and stop exploiting their non-Druze tenants. This displeased the Maronite population. Shahib the second had thrown his lot in with Ibrahim Pasha and this displeased the Turkish sultan, who replaced him eventually with Bashir the third.

The antipathy didn’t end with the defeat of the Pashas, According to an account by ”Cedarland”, the Turkish sultan was concerned with the autonomy of the Maronites as they extended their control to the Shouf district. Bashir the third, though appointed by the Turkish Sultan, massacred the town of Deir al qamar, a Druze stronghold and butchered those, who attempted to flee to Beirut.

Bashir was soon replaced and with the intervention of European powers, the region was ”partitioned” between Maronites and Druze, in 1842. The massacres continued and in 1860, spread through the whole of Syria, with heavy casualties on both sides.

It is a safe bet, that the curtailment of Maronite power was supported by Britain, which feared their allegiance to France. Britain was making inroads into the region at that time and the American protestants, who arrived in Syria, allied to the Druze Muslims not the Maronite Catholics. Lastly of course there is the matter of the arms supplied by prime minister Palmerston to the Druze Muslims. More about that later.

Governing a diverse society.

For those, who criticise President Assad for not stepping down, when the west dictated he should, just bear in mind the consequences of a regime change in Syria. The Assad dynasty kept Syria safe for decades, it was a stable country, where various cultures coincided; despite its huge population and it not being part of the western monopoly game.

What is happening now would have happened, even if the President had given up power immediately. The Syrian Brotherhood, who I believe to be as nationalistic as other Syrians, would not have been capable of deterring those outsiders, who pursue the principles of the Ummah. Particularly as they believe it is okay to enter a country and to commit murder, in order to impose their own values upon it.

Noveau colonisation?

Europe is restructuring, with a return to the type of colonisation, that dates back centuries. Now though, the stakes are higher, the situation in present day Crimea is about the remaining world resources. Agreements will be reached eventually but for how long?

Syria is paying a high price for its regime’s support for Russia. Britain, despite its protestations, has its henchmen, in the young Muslim radicals; so people here can be complacent and guilt free, but for how long?

No to NATO!!

There will be a NATO summit held in Newport and Wales is none to pleased. We plan to oppose this debacle. If you are interested see for further info.



One thought on “The Syrian empire, 19th century colonisation: the plight of Syrian Christians, a background.

  1. Pingback: Lebanon an update, Moukhtara, service taxi adventures, new presidents and other gems including some photographs | History of Syria, ancient and modern; hope for an inclusive future

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